Andy Manis / AP
Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011 | 2:05 a.m.
The UNLV football team’s Saturday opponent is a perfect example that rebuilding a program takes time.
Washington State, which won just five games from 2008 to 2010 in fielding one of the worst teams on the West Coast, is starting to show signs of winning its way out of the bottom of the Pac-12 standings. It hosts the Rebels, which are going through their own rebuilding pains, at 2 p.m. in Pullman, Wash.
The Cougars closed last season by upsetting Oregon State 31-14 on the road and giving Washington everything it could handle in the Apple Cup rivalry game in a seven-point loss. Then, it opened 2011 last week by easily handling Idaho State, scoring 47 unanswered points to start the game in a 64-21 victory.
“They have improved dramatically,” UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said. “From the end of the ’09 season and start of last season until now, they are vastly improved.”
Washington State coach Paul Wulff and Hauck come from a similar background. They previously coached against each other at Football Bowl Subdivision schools in the Big Sky Conference, with Hauck’s Montana teams posting a 4-1 record against Wulff’s squads at Eastern Washington.
Wulff, who took the Washington State job after the 2007 season, has struggled in the rebuilding process with a 5-32 record in his initial three seasons. It’s the same drill for Hauck at UNLV.
UNLV, which is a 14-point betting underdog, is expected to start four freshmen and six sophomores in attempting to win its first road game in nine tries under Hauck. Since 2007, UNLV has just three road wins.
“We are tasked this week with going on the road again to face another BCS conference opponent. Certainly that is a tall order for us,” Hauck said.
But it’s not nearly as impossible as last week’s game against nationally ranked Wisconsin. The Rebels surrendered 499 yards of offense, including 241 rushing yards, and were physically overmatched at virtually every position in 51-17 loss.
Despite the lopsided defeat and defensive shortcomings, UNLV was able to move the ball efficiently at times with sophomore quarterback Caleb Herring completing 18-of-27 passes for two touchdowns and leading the Rebels on a pair of second half scoring drives.
“We did some things we can hang our hat on,” Hauck said. “There was certainly some bright spots when you dig into it. The scoreboard wasn’t one of those.”
The scoreboard won’t favor the Rebels until they shore up their problems defensively. Wisconsin moved the ball with relative ease in leading 51-3 late in the third quarter — a fact that will serve as motivation during practice this week for members of the Rebels defense.
“We worked real hard all fall camp on tackling and running to the ball,” defensive back Will Chandler said. “It just didn’t come together. We took it to heart and we are working hard to fix it.”
UNLV has a 3-23 record away from Sam Boyd Stadium since 2007, but playing at Washington State’s Martin Stadium should be a welcome change from last week. Martin Stadium has a capacity of 35,117, which is less than half of the 77,085 fans last week at Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium.
“Once you subtract all of the outside distractions, it is just playing football,” Herring said. “Wherever you are, it is 100 yards to get to the end zone.”